It’s useful to go into a show like Hamilton with a fresh mind and a ‘hey, I’ve lived under a rock for the last three years’ mentality. Somehow I managed to avoid the hype. I’d heard of the musical of course and had numerous friends express deep envy at my seeing it before 2025 (HA), but I’d just never bothered to research the story or listen to the soundtrack. It’s useful but not vital to avoid the hype. Hamilton is fully deserving of the mass critical acclaim and numerous accolades (it won 11 Tony Awards in 2016 and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama) so if you have become swept up in the hysteria, prepare to remain so.
The story of Alexander Hamilton is largely unknown. One of America’s founding fathers and subsequent fighters for independence from the British Empire, the man’s memory and reputation have been lost to other more ‘prominent’ figures in the country’s chequered history (though he is the face of the $10 bill). He was a penniless immigrant from the Caribbean who rose to become so powerful, he was George Washington’s right-hand man and the first Secretary of the Treasury. Despite being portrayed as far from sympathetic and especially by today’s standards (he was notoriously arrogant, difficult and distrusted democracy), Hamilton’s sheer determination and influence just cannot be argued with. How can we trust the legitimacy of the show’s content? Writer Lin-Manuel Miranda (who also played the lead role on Broadway) has been praised highly for his and his team’s attention to historical detail and retaining an integrity that sets it apart from other adapted works.
There’s a lot of bullshit out there that claims allegiance to a truthful narrative – especially in a historical context and its contrariness is staggeringly destructive. Miranda’s thorough research into Hamilton’s subject matter has ensured audiences are seeing accuracy and that, is crucial. But this isn’t just a musical about politics. It shows us the relevance of power, class and race. It shows that immigrants should never be thought of as different – as less and that this very idea is ridiculous. What makes one individual more capable – more spirited than another? Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump is not a fan. The casting of the founding fathers as all non-white doesn’t even feel like a ‘thing’ but it is and only in its spectacular parallels between now and then. Hamilton et al were the revolutionaries of the old world, trying to create a new one. They are portrayed by the revolutionaries of today who are already making change in a very scary, jagged climate.
Like the best records, Hamilton’s music tells a story. The lyrics are essential, the production magnificent and the voices that relay them to us are exceptional. There’s a thoroughly ’90s vibe here and especially with songs such as Helpless and Satisfied that are reminders of achingly cool girl bands like early days TLC. It feels as though the scale of music here has never been done before in this medium. Rap, RnB and Pop all combine yet stand alone in their power to emote. Is it post-musical? One of Miranda’s other shows, In the Heights, felt like a game-changer too. But what does that word even mean? Has the game ever had one clear front-runner?
There must be a lot of pressure to originate a UK cast with a show like this. Jamael Westman doesn’t have numerous credits to his name so to take on the lead and to nail the various sides of Hamilton consistently, whilst rapping and singing for nearly three hours is amazing. Rachelle Ann Go’s Eliza Hamilton bears much of the emotional weight as she must deal with her husband’s infidelity and other heartbreaks, doing so with immense talent and class. Cleve September begins to really stand out as he takes on the role of son, Philip, leaving behind his arrogant, slightly bland earlier character, John Laurens. You could go on and on about the incredible cast of Hamilton, but I shan’t. They’re all fantastic with an absolute stand-out in Rachel John. After playing alternates, albeit in big shows for some years now, this finally feels like her moment. The magnitude in her talent is breathtaking. I think everyone was a bit speechless after Satisfied.
Hamilton is not perfect. The story can be difficult to keep up with and become lost to the overwhelming music but hey, this and the message it is trying to tell is just as much in the score’s emotion and what you see in the characters on stage. This is a powerhouse of a musical and clearly it is very special. Revealed to us, is the story of one of America’s ‘lost’ founding fathers, made so by Eliza who ensured her husband’s legacy would not be forgotten and it could not be more relevant in these troubling yet inspiring and collective times. It is a show that should and will not leave you.
Hamilton is currently booking at the Victoria Palace Theatre until June 30th 2018. For more information and tickets, see hamiltonmusical.com/london.